Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) – for international researchers

On 29 January 2021, the government announced the expansion of the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) to international researchers, as outlined in a letter and FAQ's (pdf)‌from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Until recently, only international students, who require a visa to study in the UK and are intending to study at postgraduate level in certain sensitive subjects where their knowledge could be used in programmes to develop Advanced Conventional Military Technology (ACMT), weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) or their means of delivery, have needed to apply for an ATAS certificate.

The government considers there to be significant threat to the UK’s national and border security and has expanded ATAS to include international researchers in order to protect UK research from exploitation and ensure that HEIs do not inadvertently support foreign military programmes of concern.

With effect from 21 May 2021, any individual who will be undertaking research activities, at PhD level or above, in one of the Academic Subjects/Fields of Research relevant to ATAS (the same as for students) will be required to apply for government clearance by obtaining a free of charge ATAS certificate before they can apply for a visa to start or continue working in the UK. If they do not include an ATAS certificate with their application, it may be rejected/refused. 

The ATAS requirement affects research, academic, engineering and technician staff applying for Skilled Worker visas and Sponsored Researchers applying for Government Authorised Exchange visas as well as visiting academics and researchers. Exemptions exist for nationals from the UK/Ireland, EEA, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and USA and those applying for other visa types e.g. Global Talent Visas.

More information about the ATAS requirements and application process is available in our ATAS Application FAQ's (pdf)‌.

The ATAS expansion impacts significantly upon the College’s recruitment, change of employment and visa extension processes as well as on engagement of sponsored researchers and visiting academics and researchers.

Following discussions with colleagues in HR and Research Services, we have developed initial ATAS Process Guidance (pdf)outlining actions required by departments, individuals and HR/Staff Compliance teams and approximate timeframes.

In addition, the Staff Compliance team is reviewing arrangements for in-process appointments, new recruits and existing employees and will contact individuals and departments as necessary to advise relevant details and any potential delays to visa applications and work start dates.

As the team must confirm on the Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) whether or not the ATAS requirement applies, the department will be asked to provide answers to specific questions to establish if ATAS is required, as indicated on our process guidance and/or upon request. Where an ATAS certificate is required, the department will also need to provide a research statement, 6-7 lines in length, summarising the research activities the individual will undertake. The individual will need to submit this information when they apply for their ATAS certificate.

The team will direct individuals to submit an ATAS certificate application and check for evidence that this has been granted, as we do with other visa requirements, before assigning a CoS. 

It is recommended that individuals submitting an initial or extension visa application apply for a free of charge ATAS certificate as early as possible. Individuals can apply for an ATAS certificate in advance and certificates will be valid for 6 months. Applications will normally be processed within 10 working days, up to 15 working days between April and September, however there are no fast track options available.

We will update the FAQS and process guidance as we clarify the new rules and the implementation options available to us and will provide further briefings in due course. In the meantime, we would very much appreciate your continued patience as we navigate these new regulations.